Some Festivals I’ve Known: A Few Rambling Recollections (Part 2)

Commissioned by Richard Porton and written for (and published by) On Festivals: 03 (Dekalog), edited by Richard Porton, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Because of the length of this, I’m running it in two parts, and this is the second part. — J.R.

Apart from New York and Cannes, I can almost count the other film festivals I attended during the 1970s on one hand: San Sebastian in 1972; London in 1974–76 (after moving to London to work for the British Film Institute, as assistant editor of the Monthly Film Bulletin); Edinburgh in 1975 and 1976 (which I covered both years for Sight and Sound); Filmex in Los Angeles in 1977–78 (after I moved from London to San Diego, to teach film at the University of California); the Toronto Festival of Festivals, thanks to David Overbey, in 1978; and Venice, to attend a three-day conference called The Cinema in the 80s, in 1979.

The San Sebastian bash, held back then in July, was by far the glitzies-– an event that incorporated not only a good many midnight banquetat country clubs, but also a trip to Pampelona to attend the bullfight, witHoward Hawks – the festival’s guest of honor, head juror, and the focuof the festival’s retrospective holding court.Read more »

Some Festivals I’ve Known: A Few Rambling Recollections (Part 1)

Commissioned by Richard Porton and written for (and published by) On Festivals: 03 (Dekalog), edited by Richard Porton, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Because of the length of this, I’m running it in two parts. — J.R.

I’m pretty sure the first film festival I ever attended was the third New York Film Festival, at age 22 in fall 1965, to see Alphaville. In 1963, I probably would have attended the first New York Film Festival if I hadn’t transferred from Washington Square College to Bard College, two hours up the Hudson, about half a year earlier. Later that same year, I took over the Friday night film series at Bard, but every once in a while I’d forego one of my own selections in order to take a weekend trip to New York and see something new I was especially curious about; my first looks at Muriel and Dr. Strangelove were during two such excursions. And my curiosity about what Jean-Luc Godard would do with science fiction was enough to persuade me to hop on the train or catch a ride with a classmate. As it turned out, I found the film silly, not really understanding most of its allusions to contemporary Paris or German expressionist cinema.Read more »

Take That Corn and Shuck It

From The Soho News (September 8, 1981); tweaked a little on June 6, 2010. — J.R.

Comin’ at Ya!

Written by Lloyd Battista, Wolf Lowenthal, and Gene Quintano

Directed by Fernando Baldi

Take This Job and Shove It

Written by Jeff Bernini and Barry Schneider

Based on the song by David Allan Coe

Directed by Gus Trikonis

Let’s face facts. When notions of what a “good” movie is shrinks to the level of TV deepthink like Kramer vs. Kramer or Prince of the City, it may be time to bring the glories of the big-screen “bad” movie back again — at least if what we’re out for is fun and adventure. Unlike the most dutiful Oscar winners, whose notions of the good and proper usually revolve around the relatively straight and narrow, or the collected works of a Bergman or a Fellini that are even more consistent about their consistency — beating you into submission as they gradually meld into one all-purpose archetype — certain bad movies can boast range, unpredictability, and singularly distinctive tastes.

Indeed, a fascinating and suggestive literature has been accumulating for some time about bad movies, ranging from Jack Smith on Maria Montez to Myron Meisel on Edgar G.… Read more »

The Ten Best Jazz Films (1999 list)

Joseph McBride, a friend, asked me to contribute a list of some sort to The Book of Movie Lists (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1999), which he put together, and here’s what we came up with. -– J.R.

The 10 Best Jazz Films

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

What follows is a personal list of neither the best films on jazz (e.g., Jazz on A Summer’s Day) nor the best examples of jazz on film (such as the Fats Waller soundies or the 1981 Johnny Griffin at the Village Vanguard), but something more special and rarified: films in which the aesthetics of jazz and the aesthetics of film find some happy and mutually supportive meeting ground.

1.Black & Tan (DUDLEY MURPHY, 1929). Remarkable not only as an experimental narrative by the (often uncredited) main author of Ballet mécanique and as a radical political statement about to whom jazz belongs, but also as a ravishing, poetic marriage between the music of Duke Ellington and the poetics of death and orgasm. Only twenty-one minutes long, but the aesthetics of jazz and film start here.

2.When it Rains (CHARLES BURNETT, 1995). A twelve-minute miracle, and, alas, the only film on this list by a black filmmaker, this is a jazz parable about the discovery of common ‘6os roots via a John Handy album in contemporary L.A., with a wonderful offscreen commentary.… Read more »

En movimiento: Placeless Identity

My column for Caíman Cuadernos de Cine, submitted on March 21, 2019. — J.R.

phoenix-2013_5195493

It’s tiresome to keep hearing from several American colleagues what a lousy year 2018 supposedly was for movies — “movies” being virtually equated with Hollywood crap in much the same way that “the world” is often equated with the U.S. (with Cuarón, Farhadi, Pawlikowski, and a few others occasionally accorded the dubious status of honorary Americans, usually on the basis of their Oscars). Given how much non-American cinema one can see nowadays via streaming, this is an inexcusable way of allowing the big companies to keep their stranglehold on what passes for film culture, making it easier than ever to miss out on what matters.

alphaville_highway

Even so, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t recognize the brilliance of Christian Petzold until recently, when I saw Transit (2018) — having previously seen only his Ghosts  (2005) and Barbara (2012). Having now accessed, in swift succession, his Phoenix  (2014), Yella (2007), Jerichow(2008), and Barbara again — I feel that it’s the dreamlike, hallucinatory surfaces (both aural and visual) of YellaPhoenix,  and Transit more than the literal places and spaces of Jerichow and Barbara that best capture Pertzold’s investigations into historical and existential identity.… Read more »

Sound and Flurry (on ART OF MUSIC VIDEO)

The following article appeared in the February 23, 1990 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.

ART OF MUSIC VIDEO

For people like myself who have conflicted feelings about music videos as an art form, the four-part series Art of Music Video – playing for the second time at the Film Center this weekend — offers lots of material to consider. Even so, this presentation of a hundred videos assembled by Michael Nash of the Long Beach Museum of Art involves a number of curatorial decisions that I have problems with. Before considering the videos themselves, let me list these problems; some of them are overlapping rather than consecutive, but putting them in list form will help to give some idea of how many boats this particular series is missing:

(1) Historical. Although Nash’s selection is media-specific—that is, generally limited to videos—one of his four programs, “Vanguard Re-visions,” has a subcategory called “Experimental Film: Invention and Intervention,” consisting of films made by Bruce Conner, James Herbert, and Jem Cohen between 1961 and 1989.

While I have no quarrel with the inclusion of these figures, it’s clear that this attempt to give a foreshortened art-history perspective rules out a lot more of the history of music videos and their precursors than it includes.… Read more »

Course File on Experimental Film (Part 2) (1982)

From AFI Education Newsletter (January-February 1982). Because of the length of this, I’ll be running it in two installments. — J.R.

Course File:

EXPERIMENTAL FILM:

FROM UN CHIEN ANDALOU TO CHANTAL AKERMAN (Part 2)

UNIT III: German and Soviet Experimentation in the Twenties

Part of the strategy of studying German and Soviet experimentation over roughly the same period is the striking contrast between these national film movements and their relationship to popular genres as well as their different themes and subjects. On the one hand, one finds the efforts of a Fritz Lang to experiment with the thriller format, and those of F.W. Murnau (and his scriptwriter Carl Mayer) to construct an essentially non-verbal visual language. On the other hand, one finds the relatively less script-bound experiments with montage and certain documentary principles provided by the Soviet filmmakers. An interesting topic to consider speculatively is the Soviet version of Lang’s first Dr. Mabuse film, which was re-edited by Eisenstein for Russian audiences.

Screenings:

Bronenosets Potemkin (The Battleship Potemkin) (1925, 65 min.) Directed by Sergei Eisenstein — Perhaps the most famous of all experimental films, including some 1300 shots, Eisenstein’s classic is structured in five “acts.” Along with Strike, made the previous year, this is the most accessible of  Eisenstein’s silent films, and might be contrasted with October (or significant portions thereof) in               terms of the different principles of montage at work.… Read more »

Course File on Experimental Film (Part 1) (1982)

From AFI Education Newsletter (January-February 1982). Because of the length of this, I’ll be running it in two installments. — J.R.

EXPERIMENTAL FILM:

FROM UN CHIEN ANDALOU TO CHANTAL AKERMAN (Part 1)

UNIT l: lntroduction

One distinct advantage to teaching a course in experimental film as opposed to avant-garde film is that it automatically gives one much more leeway in terms of screenings to be selected as well as overall teaching approaches. While “avant-garde cinema” can be regarded, by and large, as a distinct body of work with its own traditions, history and critical literature, “experimental film” is a rather more subjective and ambiguous category, and one that cuts across certain forms of commercial as well as avant-garde filmmaking. (There are many more references to various commercial forms of filmmaking, including Hollywood, in David Curtis’s Experimental Cinema, than there are in P. Adams Sitney’s Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde.)

Consequently, any teacher setting out to plan a course in experimental rather than avant-garde cinema automatically has a greater amount of material to select from, and substantially more freedom in defining the scope and limits of his or her subject. By the same token, the demands placed on one’s imagination, creative input and organizational capacities might also be significantly greater.… Read more »

David Holzman’s Diary/My Girlfriend’s Wedding: Historical Artifacts of the Past and Present

This essay was originally written as liner notes for a DVD released in 2006 in the U.K. by Second Run, an excellent label. (This DVD can be obtained here—a site well worth checking out for other films as well.) My thanks to Mehelli Modi for commissioning this piece as well as for allowing me to reprint it, both here and in my collection Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia. I’m delighted, incidentally, that Lorber Kino’s recent DVD release of these films also includes not only My Girlfriend’s Wedding and Pictures from Life’s Other Side, but also McBride’s wonderful recent short, My Son’s Wedding to My Sister-in-Law (2008). — J.R.

 

In my mind, there isn’t as much of a distinction between documentary and fiction as there is between a good movie and a bad one. — Abbas Kiarostami

 

Artifact #1: A softcover book, The Film Director as Superstar (Garden City, NY:

Doubleday & Co.,1970)—-a collection of 16 interviews in three parts, each of

which has two subsections: “The Outsiders” (”Beyond the Underground,” “Their

Own Money, Their Own Scene”), “The European Experience” (”The Underemployed

Independent,” “The Socialist Film Schools”), and “Free Agents Within the System”

(”Transitional Directors,” “Independents with Muscle”).… Read more »

What Dope Does to Movies

The following essay was commissioned by Toronto filmmaker Ron Mann in 1992 for the book-spinoff of his documentary Grass. I wrote this around the same time that I reviewed Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai for the Chicago Reader, which helped to focus my conclusion; for more aspects of this argument, see “International Sampler”.—J.R.

What Dope Does to Movies

By Jonathan Rosenbaum


To the memory of Paul Schmidt

Consider how the camera cuts from Richie Havens’s face, guitar, and upper torso during his second number in Woodstock (1970) to a widening vista of thousands of clapping spectators, then to a much less populated view of the back of the bandstand, where there’s no clapping, watching, or listening — just a few figures milling about near the stage or on the hill behind it. What’s going on? This radical shift in orientation and perspective—a sudden movement from total concentration to Zenlike disassociation — is immediately recognizable as part of being stoned, and Michael Wadleigh’s epic concert film, which significantly has about the same duration as a marijuana high, is one of the first studio releases to incorporate this experience into its style and vision.

Or think of the way that Blade Runner (1982) starts: a long, lingering aerial view of Los Angeles in the year 2019, , punctuated by dragon-like spurts of noxious yellow flames, with enormous close-ups of a blue eye whose iris reflects those sinister, muffled explosions.… Read more »

Wolfen Pleasures

From the Soho News (August 11, 1981). This film is available now on Blu-Ray. — J.R.

Wolfen

Written by David Eyre and Michael Wadleigh

Based on a novel by Whitley Streiber

Directed by Michael Wadleigh

Tarzan, the Ape ManWritten by Tom Rowe and Gary Goddard

Directed by John Derek

I Hate Blondes

Written by Laura Toscano and Franco Marotta

Directed by Giorgio CapitaniHeavy Metal

Screenplay by Dan Goldberg and Len Blum

Directed by Gerald Potterton         (opens August 7)

It was at the Cannes Festival in 1970 — a happy, unreal event — that I first came upon the awesome, utopian Woodstock, in 70mm and stereo, along with its pie-eyed director, Michael Wadleigh. He spoke beatifically about the convergence of art and politics in his press conference, and quite movingly dedicated Woodstock before its screening to the students who had just been killed at Kent State. After the movie, he passed out black armbands in the Grand Palais; I took one and wore it for a while. Eventually, some of the boutiques along the Croisette started selling them — which made it hard to know whether one was representing the New Left or Warner Brothers. I’m not sure that Wadleigh was entirely clear about this either.… Read more »

The Way It Was [WOODSTOCK]

I’m not sure why, but it seems like Woodstock has rarely gotten its due as a film. This review for the Chicago Reader ran on August 12, 1994, while I was working in New York on the New York Film Festival’s selection committee, and I recall that as a consequence I had to write and get most of this piece edited in Chicago well in advance. A little bit of it is recycled from the first paragraph of an article, “What Dope Does to Movies, that I wrote for Grass: The Paged Experience, the 2001 book spinoff of Ron Mann ‘s documentary Grass — an update and revision of an article I wrote for High Times 15 years earlier. –J.R.

WOODSTOCK ****  (Masterpiece)

Directed by Michael Wadleigh

With Richie Havens, Country Joe and the Fish, Joe Cocker, Sha Na Na, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Ten Years After, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, the Who, John Sebastian, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix.

Michael Wadleigh’s epic documentary Woodstock (1970) has been reviewed often as an event, a symbol, and a cause, but it’s seldom been considered strictly as a movie; yet on this score it’s light-years beyond anything on the 60s counterculture ever released by a Hollywood studio.… Read more »

How to Capture an Artist [SYLVIA & IN THE MIRROR OF MAYA DEREN]

From the Chicago Reader (October 31, 2003). — J.R.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_CahFaiTy14k/S5msekMC06I/AAAAAAAABwI/Es2ZCXQ3VmY/s400/Picture+6.png

Sylvia

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Christine Jeffs

Written by John Brownlow

With Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, Amira Casar, Andrew Havill, Lucy Davenport, Blythe Danner, and Michael Gambon.

In the Mirror of Maya Deren

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Martina Kudlacek

Greasing the bodies of adulterers

Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.

The sin. The sin.

– Sylvia Plath, “Fever 103 °

http://www.sensesofcinema.com/wp-content/uploads/images/directors/02/23/deren.jpg

In film, I can make the world dance.

– Maya Deren

In college it always seemed like the guys who were poets got more girls than the prose writers. The assumption was that poets had all the romance and sensuality associated with their medium working for them. Poetry, after all, isn’t just a block of printed material; it’s an activity, and one that can turn people on sexually as well as spiritually.

In cultures such as those of Russia and Iran sexual and spiritual qualities tend to run neck and neck: the great Persian poet Forough Farrokhzad (1935-’67), a fan of Sylvia Plath, retains a mythic allure that combines the auras of Joan of Arc, Billie Holiday, and Marilyn Monroe. And an erotic charge is one of the first things that Sylvia, a biopic about Sylvia Plath (1932-’63), gets right.… Read more »

Our Sylvias — and Guerín’s

Written in April 2011 for the Cinema Guild DVD of In the City of Sylvia and Some Photos in the City of Sylvia. Alas, most of the illustrations used here come from the former of these, the second to have been made. — J.R.

sylvia10

in_the_city_of_sylvia

José Luis Guerín’s Some Photos in the City of Sylvia has been described, by myself and others, as a silent, black and white “study” (or filmed “treatment,”or “scenario”) in 2007 that formed the basis for In the City of Sylvia, a color and sound “remake”of the following year. Whether or not this might be technically accurate in terms of causality and financing, it now strikes me as an inadequate way of summarizing the fascinating relation between these two works. I even think it’s an error to view these two films as two versions of the same story — a mistake I made myself when I reviewed them together back in 2008 — because assuming this overlooks too many other things.

inthecityofsylvia-drawing

sylvia09

Just as there are viewers who prefer Chantal Akerman’s Golden Eighties (1983), her feature-length “preview” to her 1986 musical Window Shopping, and others who prefer Jean-Luc Godard’s 54-minute Scenario du Film “Passion” (1982) to his 88-minute Passion (made the same year), it’s entirely possible to prefer Guerín’s 67-minute “sketch” to his 84-minute feature.… Read more »

Criterion’s Costa

Written circa June 2010 and previously unpublished. — J.R.

I can still recall the amusement of Penelope Houston — my boss, during the mid-1970s, when I was working for British Film Institute’s Editorial Department, on the staffs of Sight and Sound and Monthly Film Bulletin whenever she came across routine references to directors Samuel Fuller and Douglas Sirk as “neglected” figures. Even though very few Anglo-American cinephiles could have even identified Fuller and Sirk during the 1950s, when most of their major films were coming out, Penelope certainly had a point when it came to questioning how “neglected” they still were among contemporary cinephiles in the U.K., especially after the Edinburgh film festival had extensive retrospectives devoted to each of them in 1969 and 1972, respectively. By the mid-70s, at least three books about Fuller and two about Sirk were available in the U.K — none of which appeared to have the slightest effect on their status as “neglected” filmmakers, according to the usual sound-bites.

Penelope indeed had a point. But then again, so did the various teachers and journalists who described Fuller and Sirk as “neglected,” because even though one book about each figure was published in the British Film Institute’s Cinema One series (a joint effort of the BFI’s Editorial and Education Departments in which Peter Wollen had a voice as well as Penelope), these directors remained relatively shadowy figures in Sight and Sound, a quarterly in that period which had a guaranteed subscription list based on BFI membership and therefore an unparalleled degree of clout over other film magazines in the U.K.Read more »